Six short months ago, Virginia native Jeff Verdi loaded up his 1968 year model Pontiac Firebird on an open trailer, pulled by his 1999 model pick-up truck and headed west to the Spring Fling Million at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As the sun fell on The Strip, Verdi left with the big check, literally, and the Million Dollar main event champion hardware, etching his name in history as the first winner of the event.
Flash forward to October 22, 2016, a little closer to home in Montgomery, Alabama at the 21st Annual CARS Protection Plus Million Dollar Drag Race. Verdi, just like 300 more of the toughest racers in the game, lined up to hand over their $2,000 buy-in to Saturday’s main event. Nine rounds later, Verdi’s familiar Pontiac was still standing strong after some of the toughest races of the event.
The Virginia native rolled into the water alongside North Carolina’s Tez Powell in his door car for the nerve-racking, historic Million Dollar final round. To add to the already insurmountable nerves, with over 300 cars, the winner’s purse before any splits was at an astounding $300,000 to the victor!
Verdi and Powell staged up and as the tree turned green in both lanes, Verdi had a .010-second advantage with a .016 reaction time, parlaying it into yet another Million Dollar main event victory by running a 5.783 on his 5.77 dial-in, as Powell was also one above his dial-in but couldn’t overcome the reaction time advantage by Verdi.
As always at this storied stage of bracket racing, the ‘big split’ is to be expected and this year, it occurred at 14 cars. While nobody but the race operations team and the drivers exactly know what the splits were, the rumor mill is buzzing with Verdi taking home $100,000 and Powell grabbing a cool $72,000 for his runner-up efforts. Over 600 of the world’s best sportsman racers packed Montgomery Motorsports Park to the gills for the Mickey Thompson Tires Triple 25s that bookend the Million Dollar Drag Race weekend each and every year.
Heath Davis kicked off the event, laying claim to the first of the $25,000 checks with a victory on Thursday over Scotty Richardson. Brian Lampton put his hands on the trophy on day two on Friday, putting Brad Plourd on the trailer for the second of three $25,000 paydays. World champion Kevin Brannon capped the weekend in his dragster, taking the final win light with a dead-on-the-dial run against Erin McCullough’s Camaro under the lights on Sunday.
Jeff Verdi has further etched his name in the drag racing lore after not one, but two Million Dollar Drag Race championships, all within six months . Verdi’s simple door car has also given hope to many racers in that you don’t need a motorhome, a stacker trailer, or multiple cars to be competitive. If you have a solid race car, a cool composure behind the wheel, and a little bit of luck on your side, you can be just like Jeff Verdi, hoisting a million dollar checks of your own — that is, if Verdi doesn’t beat you to it.
Photo Credit: The Million Dollar Drag Race